The sandstorm swirling around beach volleyball for the last several months has finally settled. Today, the newly formed National Volleyball League smacked down any speculation about this sport’s uncertain future.
Ushering in a new era of volleyball, one tailored to the carefree, beach party lifestyle, the NVL kicked off its season at sand courts bordering the picturesque Inner Harbor entertainment district in Baltimore, MD.
As a culmination of nearly a year of planning, owner Albert “Al-B” Hannemann unleashed his crafted vision to the entire sports community. Resting on the volunteerism of many, Hannemann pulled off what many believed to be unthinkable – a resurrection of the sport from the depths precipitated by the Association of Volleyball Professionals plummet into bankruptcy last November.
“It was a big decision to start the (six event) tour on the road,” said Hannemann, who could have opted for a popular California beach, close to the sport’s birthplace.
Yet, sixty-four beach volleyball pros, allured by former player Hannemann’s dream, competed on seven reconstructed courts, which were deepened by 80 tons of sand trucked in by the NVL. Despite overcast skies and the occasional drizzle, all players eagerly bumped, set, and spiked during this full day of competition.
Volunteers, as well as contractors (some of whom willingly agreed to reduced pay), kept the event running smoothly. “We had a lot on the line. Everyone stepped up,” beamed Hannemann.
As a throwback to the past, the tournament was indeed austere. Gone were the large stadiums, oversized banners, VIP amenities, and jumbotrons – long emblematic of the AVP and its own glamorous, oftentimes Hollywood-like style that strayed from the sports’s casual roots.
Instead, players simply competed along a string of courts – flanked by small-scale signage, filmed by roving cameramen capturing the action for streaming to the NVL web site, and cheered by stoked fans nestled behind a chain link fence.
The two-day tournament continues tomorrow on the massive infield of the Pimlico race track, where the 136th running of the Preakness will be held. Pulling up the stakes from this spartan setting to resettle in front of tens of thousands of partying fans will be a challenge which Hanneman is ready for.
“The National Volleyball League is here,” said the relieved Hannemann, at day’s end.
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